A few years ago, many Americans knew very little about Common Core K-12 education standards — even though more than 40 states had agreed to adopt them.

A year and a half ago, two-thirds of those surveyed said they hadn’t heard of the standards. But a more recent poll last year found that two-thirds of respondents were aware of Common Core, and amid political debate, lawsuits and protests, 60 percent opposed the standards. Faced with eroding public support, several of the states that adopted the standards have either reversed their decisions or are reconsidering.

Minnesota should not follow their lead. Having national standards to better prepare students for college and careers is good policy. How states and local school districts decide to meet those goals remains a local function. But in a globally competitive information age, it makes sense to have basic national expectations for learning.

Parents and others should take the time to understand what Common Core is — and what it is not. For example, it’s not Minnesota’s former graduation requirement program, Profile of Learning, and it’s not the federal No Child Left Behind law. Both of those initiatives included some constructive elements, but implementation left much to be desired.

Efforts to improve education often are targeted in political debates over excessive testing, teacher evaluations tied to tests, fears of a national curriculum and too much federal intrusion into the local control of schools.

Common Core standards — which lay out what students should know and be able to do by each grade — have captured widespread public attention only in the last 18 months or so. But they have been in the works for nearly a decade. The National Governors Association, state school chiefs and business leaders worked with educators and others across the country to create them.

Even though some are now denouncing Common Core as “federal intrusion,’’ the U.S. Department of Education did not create the standards. That remains a common misconception, however.

There has been little controversy in Minnesota, because this is not a full Common Core state, and it’s not part of the national testing consortia related to the standards. In 2010, Minnesota did adopt the Common Core language arts standards — but only because a state standard-setting process was underway, and Common Core fit nicely with the direction the state was going anyway.

Minnesota did not adopt Common Core math standards, because state standards written before the development of the national standards are not up for revision until later this year. Essentially, Minnesota has been ahead of the game on standards development, and it has come up with its own rigorous guidelines and requirements in recent years. Those policies are in line with Common Core and are aligned with college and career expectations.

Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said that many of her fellow state school chiefs are trying to manage the politics around standards and that those debates are “distractions’’ that cause delays and confusion and take away from the important mission of teaching and learning.

“There are a lot of myths and misinformation out there around Common Core, and they seem to be growing,’’ she said. “The purpose was to have a common measure of what students should learn and be able to do — but that message is getting lost in the fuss around the standards.’’

Though education is carried out locally, the world that young people must navigate is increasingly national and international. Students must not only compete with peers from other states, but also with counterparts from around the world.

If states back away from Common Core, they still need to have standards that are as good or better so that their students can continue to compete.